IQ Equals Innate Intelligence? Maybe Not!

Is there such a thing as a finite and innate capacity to learn? Is it at all possible to measure it? Is there any point, and what could be the possible motives in doing so?

So, it seems, IQ tests measure not the amount of raw intelligence genetically available to an individual, but how they use the skills and knowledge they have acquired so far in their lives. They measure the extent to which certain culturally specific skills can be used by an individual in an artificial, abstract situation, and go on to measure those same skills in research about success and performance in life, only to find — surprise, surprise — a correlation.

It’s always nice to see your own intuitions or personal ‘common sense’ shared by scientists who have gone into much more detail, and brought their specialist knowledge to the table. This explains the warm feeling I had while reading this blog post which refers to Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg’s contribution to the Handbook of Competence and Motivation by Andrew Elliott and Carol Dweck.

The IQ testing community goes to some lengths to divide ability tests (revealing supposedly innate intelligence) and achievement tests (measuring the knowledge and skills we’ve developed). Sternberg claims that these distinctions are not valid, that the distinguishing factors of the tests were in fact the methods of interpretation. In fact both kinds of test measure achievement, the use of the skills required to complete the tests, and not some pool of available resources within our brains. Those kind of skills are precisely the ones taught in Western schools, and ones which correlate with job performance in the same kinds of societies. And what lies underneath this self perpetuating circuit? Why do some kids do better than others at these skills? How can we best facilitate the acquisition of such skills? Is there such a thing as a finite and innate capacity to learn? Is it at all possible to measure it? Is there any point, and what could be the possible motives in doing so?

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There have been several studies illustrating how practical skills do not always correlate well with analytical ‘intelligence’ tests, such as that involving Brazilian street children whose mathematical business skills do not translate into abstract, pencil-and-paper maths problems. (Nunes, 1993 and 1994). As one of the most intelligent and creative of my university friends described himself as ‘borderline retarded’ after doing an IQ test, this comes as no surprise to me at all. I hope it helps people to get the proliferation of tests available on the internet in perspective, too. In general, I would say that an intelligence test measures how good you are at doing that test, in that way, on that day. No more, no less!

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